www.wvgazettemail.com U.S. and World http://www.wvgazettemail.com Gazette archive feed en-us Copyright 2017, Charleston Newspapers, Charleston, WV Newspapers US to expand pool of people targeted for deportation http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170221/GZ0101/170229939 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170221/GZ0101/170229939 Tue, 21 Feb 2017 12:21:10 -0500 By ALICIA A. CALDWELL The Associated Press By By ALICIA A. CALDWELL The Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) - The Trump administration is greatly expanding the number of people living in the U.S. illegally who are considered a priority for deportation, including people arrested for traffic violations, according to agency documents released Tuesday.

The documents represent a sweeping rewrite of the nation's immigration enforcement priorities.

The Homeland Security Department memos, signed by Secretary John Kelly, lay out that any immigrant living in the United States illegally who has been charged or convicted of any crime - and even those suspected of a crime - will now be an enforcement priority. That could include people arrested for shop lifting or minor traffic offenses.

The memos eliminate far more narrow guidance issued under the Obama administration that resources strictly on immigrants who had been convicted of serious crimes, threats to national security and recent border crossers.

Kelly's memo also describes plans to enforce a long-standing but obscure provision of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act that allows the government to send some people caught illegally crossing the Mexican border back to Mexico, regardless of where they are from. One of the memos says that foreigners sent back to Mexico would wait for their U.S. deportation proceedings to be complete. This would be used for people who aren't considered a threat to cross the border illegally again, the memo said.

It's unclear whether the United States has the authority to force Mexico to accept foreigners. That provision is almost certain to face opposition from civil libertarians and officials in Mexico.

Historically, the government has been able to quickly repatriate Mexican nationals caught at the border but would detain and try to formally deport immigrants from other countries, routinely flying them to their home countries. In some cases, those deportations can take years as immigrants ask for asylum or otherwise fight their deportation in court.

The memos do not change U.S. immigration laws, but take a far harder line toward enforcement.

The pair of directives do not have any impact on President Barack Obama's program that has protected more than 750,000 young immigrants from deportation. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals remains in place though immigrants in the program will be still be eligible for deportation if they commit a crime or otherwise are deemed to be a threat to public safety or national security, according to the department.

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In Trump's future looms a familiar shutdown threat http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170221/GZ0101/170229941 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170221/GZ0101/170229941 Tue, 21 Feb 2017 10:19:10 -0500 By ANDREW TAYLOR The Associated Press By By ANDREW TAYLOR The Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) - Add a potential government shutdown to President Donald Trump's growing roster of headaches.

Beneath the capital's radar looms a vexing problem - a catchall spending package that's likely to top $1 trillion and could get embroiled in the politics of building Trump's wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and a budget-busting Pentagon request.

While a shutdown deadline has a few weeks to go, the huge measure looms as an unpleasant reality check for Trump and Republicans controlling Congress.

Despite the big power shift in Washington, the path to success - and averting a shuttering of the government - goes directly through Senate Democrats, whose votes are required to pass the measure. And any measure that satisfies Democrats and their new leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, is sure to alienate tea party Republicans. Trump's determination to build his wall on the U.S.-Mexico border faces a fight with Democrats, too.

For now, the new Democratic leader is cautious.

"We'll have to wait and see what happens," Schumer said. "I hope they won't jam up the supplemental (spending bill) with poison pills."

At issue is the annual must-do legislation funding government agencies and departments. The path for the huge spending measure - by Republicans' own choice a piece of leftover business from last year - would be difficult and complicated in a smoothly running Washington. But partisanship has engulfed the city, and the upcoming measure is made even more challenging once upcoming Trump requests for $18 billion or more for the Pentagon and money for his contentious border wall are added to the mix.

For years, Republicans needed President Barack Obama's signoff and relied on Democratic votes to pass the measures and balance out opposition from tea partyers.

Trump's election has shifted the balance of power in Washington, but the GOP's grip on the Senate - where 60 votes are needed for most legislation - is actually weaker. Some House conservatives are demanding a round of budget cuts to "offset" new spending on the Pentagon and Trump's wall.

"If all of a sudden we're not worried about pay-fors for our spending, then we have been hypocrites," said tea party Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho. "I'm not going to vote for anything that just increases spending without looking for a way to pay for that in the future."

That's far easier said than done, especially with the budget year nearly half over. Democrats might accept the Pentagon funding - aimed at reversing what Pentagon hawks see as a slide in the military's ability to prepare against new threats - even though it would unravel a hard-won 2015 budget pact. But they won't stand for cuts to domestic programs to pay for it, and neither will more pragmatic Republicans.

"I don't think we'd be able to jam anything through that didn't have some significant buy-in by Democrats," Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said.

Lawmakers face an April 28 deadline, which seems like plenty of time. The administration, however, is off to a slow start, just last Wednesday winning Senate confirmation of its budget director, Mick Mulvaney, who has his hands full with Trump's broader budget submission for the upcoming year as well as plans for the supplemental Pentagon spending or the border wall

It's all complicated by the tumult surrounding Trump's presidency, including his low approval ratings and vehement opposition from rank-and-file Democrats still stinging from Trump's upset victory and his provocative travel ban.

GOP leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin are eager to avert any shutdown. The most recent one, caused by House Republicans, came as tea party lawmakers insisted on a failed strategy of using shutdown threats as leverage to try to block implementation of Obama's health care law.

An end-of-April shutdown still seems unlikely. Neither Republicans nor Democrats want that. But a stumble is possible if Senate Democrats filibuster the measure over budget additions like the border wall with Mexico.

And in the House, dysfunction is always possible, especially if conservatives shun the measure as they have with previous bipartisan versions of spending bills. That led top leaders like then-Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to turn to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, hat in hand, to get enough votes. Now, with Trump in the White House, House Democrats can't be counted upon to help.

"If they need Democratic votes, because some of their people will vote for nothing, as you well know, then we'll have to talk," Pelosi said. "But I fear that if they don't need Democratic votes, the product would be something very horrible for the American people."

And there's still the Senate, where Republicans hold a 52-48 edge, short of filibuster-proof 60.

"So it doesn't mean just because (Republicans) have a majority in the House, a majority in the Senate and now the White House that we can do anything we want," Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said.

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Riots erupt in Sweden's capital just days after President Trump's comments http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170221/GZ0101/170229942 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170221/GZ0101/170229942 Tue, 21 Feb 2017 10:04:57 -0500 By MAX BEARAK The Washington Post By By MAX BEARAK The Washington Post Just two days after President Donald Trump provoked widespread consternation by seeming to imply, incorrectly, that immigrants had perpetrated a recent spate of violence in Sweden, riots broke out in a predominantly immigrant neighborhood in the northern suburbs of Sweden's capital, Stockholm.

The neighborhood, Rinkeby, has seen riots in 2010 and 2013, too. And in most ways, what happened late Monday night was reminiscent of those earlier bouts of anger. Swedish police apparently made an arrest around 8 p.m. near the Rinkeby metro station. For reasons not yet undisclosed by the police, word of the arrest prompted a crowd of youths to gather.

Over four hours, the crowd burned about half a dozen cars, vandalized several shopfronts, and threw rocks at police. Police spokesman Lars Bystrom confirmed to Sweden's Dagens Nyheter newspaper that an officer had fired shots with intention to hit a rioter, but did not strike his target. A photographer for the newspaper was attacked by more than a dozen men and his camera was stolen, but no one was ultimately hurt or even arrested.

Bystrom added, "This kind of situation doesn't happen that often but it is always regrettable when they happen."

In 2015, when the influx of refugees and migrants to Europe from Africa, the Middle East and Asia was highest, Sweden took in the greatest number per capita. By and large, integration has been a success story there, save for incidents like Monday night's, which have taken place in highly segregated neighborhoods.

The newspaper Dagens Nyheter analyzed crime statistics between October 2015 and January 2016 and came to the conclusion that refugees were responsible for only 1 percent of all incidents. That has done little to assuage the perceptions, even among Swedes, that foreigners are culpable for the crime that does happen. A Pew Research Center study conducted in early 2016 indicated that 46 percent of Swedes believed that "refugees in our country are more to blame for crime than other groups."

Trump clarified on Twitter that he drew his claim of immigrant violence in Sweden - made at a campaign speech in Melbourne, Florida -- from a Fox News segment in which two Swedish police officers were interviewed. The segment was part of "Tucker Carlson Tonight" and featured filmmaker Ami Horowitz, who was introduced as someone who had documented an "incredible surge of refugee violence" in Sweden.

The two Swedish police officers whose interview provided the basis for the report spoke out on Monday and claimed their testimony had been taken out of context. One of them, Anders Göranzon, said the interview had been about areas with high crime rates, and "there wasn't any focus on migration or immigration."

"We don't stand behind it. It shocked us. He has edited the answers," said Göranzon. "We were answering completely different questions in the interview. This is bad journalism."

Horowitz defended his work to the Guardian, saying that he was "pretty sure" he told the officers what the segment was going to be about, and implying that the officer's statement came under pressure from his superiors.

Multiple criminologists in Sweden contacted by The Washington Post over the weekend said that the notion that immigrants were responsible for a large proportion of crime there was highly exaggerated. None was comfortable referring to neighborhoods like Rinkeby as "no-go zones."

Nevertheless, the integration of immigrants into Swedish society is a problem that the government has been struggling to address. "Sweden definitely, like other countries, [faces] challenges when it comes to integration of immigrants into Swedish society, with lower levels of employment, tendencies of exclusion and also crime-related problems," said Henrik Selin, director of intercultural dialogue at the Swedish Institute.

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Military strategist Trump's new national security adviser http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170220/GZ0101/170229975 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170220/GZ0101/170229975 Mon, 20 Feb 2017 15:25:31 -0500 By Catherine Lucey The Associated Press By By Catherine Lucey The Associated Press PALM BEACH, Fla. - President Donald Trump has tapped U.S. Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as his new national security adviser, replacing the ousted Michael Flynn.

Trump announced the pick Monday at his Palm Beach club and said McMaster is "a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience."

The president, who has no military experience, has shown a preference for generals in the top security roles. McMaster, who wore his uniform for the announcement, joins Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, both retired generals.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who had been Trump's acting adviser, will now serve as the National Security Council chief of staff. Trump said he would ask John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to work with them in a "somewhat different capacity."

Trump made the announcement from a luxurious living room, sitting on a couch between McMaster and Kellogg. The president told reporters as he exited the room that Vice President Mike Pence had been involved in the process.

Trump brought four candidates for the position to Mar-a-Lago over the weekend for in-person interviews, McMaster among them. McMaster called the appointment a "privilege."

McMaster served in the Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq. Considered a scholarly officer, he holds a Ph.D. in military history, and has authored a book called "Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam." He also has written articles questioning the planning for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The position of national security adviser does not require Senate confirmation.

Trump pushed out Flynn a week ago, after revelations that the adviser had misled Pence about discussing sanctions with Russia's ambassador to the United States during the presidential transition. Trump said in a news conference Thursday that he was disappointed by how Flynn had treated Pence, but did not believe Flynn had done anything wrong by having the conversations.

Trump's first choice to replace Flynn, retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward, turned down the offer.

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U.S. advisers move closer to the front lines in fight for Mosul http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170220/GZ0113/170229981 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170220/GZ0113/170229981 Mon, 20 Feb 2017 13:33:19 -0500 By DAN LAMOTHE The Washington Post By By DAN LAMOTHE The Washington Post BAGHDAD -- The Pentagon is deploying U.S. military advisers closer to the front lines in the campaign against the Islamic State as Iraqi security forces wrestle for control of the city of Mosul, the top U.S. commander here said Monday.

Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said that the advisers, numbering about 450, are "operating closer and deeper into Iraqi formations" as a new assault on western Mosul gets underway. U.S. commanders made the adjustment during the fight for the eastern side of the city, which began in October and ended last month, and the deployment has continued with the attempt, beginning Sunday, to capture western Mosul, Townsend said.

It marks the first time the U.S. military has acknowledged how close American service members are to the front lines as it assists what Townsend characterized as a force of more than 40,000 Iraqi police and soldiers fighting to retake Mosul. The battle for the western half of the northern Iraqi city is likely to stretch for months in urban neighborhoods where up to 1,000 militants are believed to be entrenched, U.S. military officials said.

Townsend's comments came during a visit by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a retired Marine general who led combat forces during the Iraq War. Mattis, the first senior member of the Trump administration to visit Iraq, said the U.S.-led military coalition will be able to simultaneously prosecute the war against the Islamic State in Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqqa, the capital of the group's so-called caliphate, along with operations against militants in other cities.

"We're going to continue to go after them until we destroy them and any kind of belief in the inevitably of their message," Mattis told reporters after a day of meetings with senior U.S. commanders and Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. "They are going to be shown exactly what they are, which is a bunch of murderous relics, to put it bluntly."

Mattis rejected a suggestion by President Donald Trump that the United States might take Iraq's oil.

"I think all of us here in this room - all of us in America - have generally paid for our gas and oil all along, and I am sure we will continue to do so in the future," he said during a meeting with reporters Sunday night. "We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil."

Trump had said repeatedly that the United States should have taken Iraq's oil during the Iraq War, most recently during a Jan. 21 visit to CIA headquarters when he said, "Maybe we'll get another chance."

The defense secretary's comments are one of several ways in which he has tried to reassure allies since leaving Washington last week. In Brussels and Munich, he promised audiences that the Trump administration will maintain its obligation to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which calls for all members to help if one is attacked. But he also warned that the United States might "moderate" its support in other ways to nations that do not meet defense spending guidelines set by the alliance.

Mattis is in the middle of a 30-day review of the U.S. strategy to defeat the Islamic State that is expected to make recommendations to the White House on whether additional U.S. troops are needed or whether new authorities should be granted to American forces to help prosecute the campaign.

The defense secretary said the United States and its allies are still sorting out what the fight for Raqqa will look like, and whether Turkish forces will be involved. The issue is considered particularly sensitive because the Turks view Kurds allied with the United States as terrorists, while U.S. officials view them as the most credible local fighters.

Reuters reported Sunday that Turkey has submitted two plans to Washington for the Raqqa battle that would rely on local Arab forces potentially backed by the Turkish military, rather than the Kurds.

"The allies are still working it out," Mattis said. "They're sharing planning, and that's all I'm going [to say] right now. But, the planning is still underway, so it has not all been decided upon who is going to do what and where. We're working together to sort it out."

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Trump asked people to 'look at what's happening ... in Sweden.' Here's what's happening there. http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170220/GZ0101/170229985 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170220/GZ0101/170229985 Mon, 20 Feb 2017 11:57:04 -0500 By RICK NOACK The Washington Post By By RICK NOACK The Washington Post President Donald Trump caused confusion during a Saturday rally in Florida when he said: "You look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?" Trump then mentioned the French cities of Nice and Paris and the Belgian capital, Brussels. The three European cities were all attacked by terrorists over the past two years.

Although Trump did not explicitly say it, his remarks were widely perceived in the United States and abroad as suggesting that an attack had occurred Friday night in Sweden.

Trump himself attempted to clarify the remarks, tweeting on Sunday: "My statement as to what's happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden."

On Monday, Trump elaborated a bit with another tweet:

"Give the public a break - The FAKE NEWS media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully. NOT!"

Trump was likely referring to an interview with filmmaker Ami Horowitz on Fox's "Tucker Carlson Tonight," which started circulating on social media shortly after Trump's speech in Florida. Horowitz has blamed refugees for what he says is a crime wave in Sweden. The filmmaker's claims have since come under scrutiny, as Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported Monday. Two Swedish police officers who were interviewed by Horowitz said that their comments had been taken out of context. One of them, Anders Göranzon, accused the filmmaker of being a "madman."

Such claims by Horowitz have driven up Google search traffic for information on Swedish crime statistics in recent weeks. In fact, interest in the issue has never been higher over the last four years.

Trump's references to Sweden seemed to suggest that the country's welcoming approach to refugees and its alleged effects on crime rates should be a warning sign. But were the president's remarks justified?

"Absolutely not," said Felipe Estrada Dörner, a criminology professor at Stockholm University. His response was echoed by multiple other experts on Monday who are familiar with Swedish crime statistics.

Overall, Sweden's average crime rate has fallen in recent years, according to Dörner. That drop has been observed for cases of lethal violence and for sexual assaults, two of the most serious categories of crime.

Moreover, an analysis by Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, conducted between October 2015 and January 2016, came to the conclusion that refugees were responsible for only one percent of all incidents. Researchers caution, however, that segregation and long-term unemployment of refugees could have a negative impact on crime rates in Sweden in the future.

The other European country that took in similar numbers of refugees per capita in 2015, Germany, has also refuted claims that the influx led to an increase in crimes. "Immigrants are not more criminal than Germans," an interior ministry spokesman said in June. Overall, crime levels in Germany declined over the first quarter of 2016, officials said last year.

Nevertheless, skepticism has persisted in Germany, Sweden and elsewhere. A Pew Research study conducted in early 2016 indicated that 46 percent of Swedes believed that "refugees in our country are more to blame for crime than other groups."

Reports about alleged police coverups of refugee crimes might have contributed to distrust in official statistics. Criminologists also say that a handful of cases have received disproportionate public attention, creating a distorted perception among Swedes.

"What we're hearing is a very, very extreme exaggeration based on a few isolated events," Jerzy Sarnecki, a criminologist at Stockholm University, told the Globe and Mail newspaper last May, when coverage of refugee-related crimes reached a peak.

There is one statistic in which Sweden does indeed lead international crime statistics, though: reported cases of rape. When three men raped a woman on Facebook Live, the incident made headlines worldwide. But criminologists say refugees are not the reason Sweden has such an extraordinarily high number of rape cases.

"The (definitions) of rape differ between countries," said Dörner. "In Sweden several changes in legislation have been made to include more cases of sexual crimes as rape cases." Sweden's definition of what constitutes rape is now one of the world's most expansive. Varying figures, as well as other Swedish measures to facilitate rape complaints, might have affected statistics, as well.

Swedish crime experts also do not agree that immigrants have created so-called no-go areas inside Sweden - areas that allegedly are too dangerous for native Swedes to enter and are effectively run by criminals. "This perception is fabricated," said Dörner. But he and others also pointed out that the refugee influx poses challenges to Sweden, just not in the way it is being portrayed by some.

"Even [though] there are no 'no-go zones' as alleged in the propaganda, there are problems around crimes and disturbances in several suburbs of Swedish cities, where immigrant groups tend to be overrepresented," said Henrik Selin, a senior researcher at the Swedish Institute.

"Sweden definitely, like other countries, (faces) challenges when it comes to integration of immigrants into Swedish society, with lower levels of employment, tendencies of exclusion, and also crimes related problems," said Selin. So far, there is little evidence, however, that Sweden has turned into the lawless country it is at times being described as abroad.

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Trump supporters see a successful president - and are frustrated with critics who don't http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170220/GZ0101/170229987 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170220/GZ0101/170229987 Mon, 20 Feb 2017 09:44:03 -0500 By JENNA JOHNSON and DAVID WEIGEL The Washington Post By By JENNA JOHNSON and DAVID WEIGEL The Washington Post MELBOURNE, Fla. - Many of President Donald Trump's most dedicated supporters - the sort who waited for hours in the Florida sun this weekend for his first post-inauguration campaign rally - say their lives changed on election night. Suddenly they felt like their views were actually respected and in the majority.

But less than one month into Trump's term, many of his supporters say they once again feel under attack - perhaps even more so than before.

Those who journeyed to Trump's Saturday evening event on Florida's Space Coast said that since the election, they have unfriended some of their liberal relatives or friends on Facebook. They don't understand why major media outlets don't see the same successful administration they have been cheering on. And they're increasingly frustrated that Democrats - and some Republicans - are too slow to approve some of the president's nominees and too quick to protest his every utterance.

"They're stonewalling everything that he's doing because they're just being babies about it," said Patricia Melani, 56, a Jersey native who now lives here and attended her third Trump rally on Saturday. "All the loud mouths? They need to let it go. Let it go. Shut their mouths and let the man do what he's got to do. We all shut our mouths when Obama got in the second time around, OK? So that's what really needs to be done."

She blames the media for circulating "fake" stories about the president - like when she believed he was "very cool, wasn't yelling" at a Thursday press conference, yet a CNN anchor described his behavior as "unhinged."

"There's such hatred for the man," she said. "I just don't get it."

It was a common sentiment at the rally in an airplane hangar here, flanked by Air Force One and attended by about 9,000 people. There were chants of "CNN sucks!" and "Tell the truth!" A pre-rally speaker gleefully announced that the president had given the media "a spanking."

Rally attendees panned coverage of the chaos within his administration, the cost of security for his family and the president's now-halted executive order that briefly banned refugees and residents of seven Muslim-majority countries. Many acknowledged that the president's first month could have been smoother, especially with the roll-out of the travel ban, but they said the media has overblown those hiccups - and they're glad to see the president fight back and label the media on Twitter Friday as "the enemy of the American People!"

"It was hilarious to see him give it to the media," said Tony Lopez, 28, a car dealer who drove to the rally from Orlando. "The media's problem is that they keep wanting to make up stories so that he looks bad. It doesn't work. He's talking right through you guys."

Several people said they would have liked to see more coverage of a measure that Trump signed on Thursday that rolled back a last-minute Obama regulation that would have restricted coal mines from dumping debris in nearby streams. At the signing, Trump was joined by coal miners in hard hats.

"If he hadn't gotten into office, 70,000 miners would have been put out of work," Patricia Nana, a 42-year old naturalized citizen from Cameroon. "I saw the ceremony where he signed that bill, giving them their jobs back, and he had miners with their hard hats and everything - you could see how happy they were."

The regulation actually would have cost relatively few mining jobs and would have created nearly as many new jobs on the regulatory side, according to a government report - an example of the frequent distance between Trump's rhetoric, which many of his supporters wholeheartedly believe, and verifiable facts.

Melani, for example, gets most of her news from talk radio - "I listen to Herman Cain on my way into work, I have Sean [Hannity] on my way home," she says - and Fox News.

She and her husband were well-versed on hold-ups with the president's Cabinet nominees and legal arguments for the now-frozen travel ban. But they didn't know much about the resignation of Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn on Monday amid accusations that he improperly discussed U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador - and then withheld that information from Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials.

"See, don't question me on that because I haven't really been watching and listening too much on it," Melani said. "I think he kind of did it just to step away, a trust kind of a thing. And now, of course, they want to pull a big investigation and all of this stuff. And to be honest with you, I really think it's only because of the way the haters are out there. That's what I really think it is."

The division that has consumed the country was on display outside Trump's rally.

On one side of the street: Thousands of his supporters wearing campaign gear and vendors selling anti-Hillary Clinton merchandise and T-shirts showing a map of the 2016 election by county, with most of the country colored Trump-red and the legend: "We the Deplorable."

On the other side of the street: Hundreds of protesters gathered in a "free speech zone" behind orange mesh fencing. Several wore pink knit hats, and some carried signs that focused on Trump's alleged connections to Russia: "Impeach that puppet" and "I can see Russia."

Robert Welsh, a 63-year old vice mayor from Miami Beach, carried a speaker blasting the Beatles song "Back in the U.S.S.R," and a sign that portrayed Russian President Vladimir Putin thanking Trump for his service.

Insults hurled back and forth across the street, as did accusations that the other side was fabricating information. Both sides accused the other of being hateful and of being paid to be there, which both sides denied.

On the protest side was Rosemary Menneto - a 53-year-old from Satellite Beach - who said several of her friends skipped the rally for fear there might be violence.

"There's so much anger and hate and foulness," she said, "and he's encouraging it."

On the supporter side was Tammy Mussler - a 48-year-old whose family runs a local mobile home and RV park who said one of her guests was hesitant to tell others he was coming to the rally.

"He goes: 'Well, I'm nervous because people are so nasty about it that you're afraid to admit that you're doing something,'" said Mussler, who said the pushback is just nastier now.

Mussler said that the women in her family are especially divided right now. She supports Trump, while they do not. She's opposed to abortion rights, while they support them. They attended the Women's March, while she found it not at all representative of her way of life.

Can this nation ever be united?

"I hope so," Mussler said with a shake of her head. "I don't know. I don't know. It would be nice, and I think if - I don't know, I don't know. I think the only thing that's going to reunite us is maybe the Lord coming back."

- - -

Les Neuhaus in Melbourne, Fla., contributed to this report.

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Drugs vanishing at some VA hospitals, AP investigation shows http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170220/GZ0115/170229988 GZ0115 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170220/GZ0115/170229988 Mon, 20 Feb 2017 08:32:14 -0500 By HOPE YEN The Associated Press By By HOPE YEN The Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal authorities are stepping up investigations at Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers due to a sharp increase in opioid theft, missing prescriptions or unauthorized drug use by VA employees since 2009, according to government data obtained by The Associated Press.

Doctors, nurses or pharmacy staff at federal hospitals - the vast majority within the VA system - siphoned away controlled substances for their own use or street sales, or drugs intended for patients simply disappeared.

Aggravating the problem is that some VA hospitals have been lax in tracking drug supplies. Congressional auditors said spot checks found four VA hospitals skipped monthly inspections of drug stocks or missed other requirements. Investigators said that signals problems for VA's entire network of more than 160 medical centers and 1,000 clinics, coming after auditor warnings about lax oversight dating back to at least 2009.

"Drug theft is an area of concern," Jeffrey Hughes, the VA's acting assistant inspector general for investigations, told AP. He said the monthly inspections could help the VA uncover potential discrepancies and root out crime.

Both the inspector general's office and the Drug Enforcement Administration said they have increased scrutiny of drug thefts from the VA, with the DEA reporting more criminal investigations.

It's not clear if the problem is worse at the VA than at private facilities, where medical experts and law enforcement officials say drug theft is also increasingly common in a time of widespread opioid abuse in the U.S. But the VA gets special scrutiny from lawmakers and the public, given Americans' esteem for ex-servicemembers served by the agency and because of past problems at the VA, especially a 2014 wait-time scandal in which some patients died.

"Those VA employees who are entrusted with serving our nation's wounded, ill and injured veterans must be held to a higher standard," said Joe Davis, spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The drug thefts will be among the challenges facing newly confirmed VA Secretary David Shulkin, who served as the department's undersecretary of health while the drug problem was growing. At his confirmation hearing this month, Shulkin said he was proud that the VA identified the opioid addiction problem before others did and "recognized it as a crisis and began to take action."

Still, the VA acknowledges it has had problems keeping up with monthly inspections and said it was taking steps to improve training. It also said it was requiring hospitals to comply with inspection procedures and develop plans for improvement.

It did not respond to AP requests made three weeks ago to provide a list of VA facilities where drugs had been reported missing or disciplinary action was taken, saying it was still compiling the information.

Reported incidents of drug losses or theft at federal hospitals jumped from 272 in 2009 to 2,926 in 2015, before dipping to 2,457 last year, according to DEA data obtained by AP. "Federal hospitals" include the VA's more than 1,100 facilities as well as seven correctional hospitals and roughly 20 hospitals serving Indian tribes.

The inspector general's office estimates there are nearly 100 open criminal probes involving theft or loss of VA controlled substances.

Three VA employees were charged this month with conspiring to steal prescription medications including opioids at the Little Rock, Arkansas, VA hospital. The inspector general's office says a pharmacy technician used his VA access to a medical supplier's web portal to order and divert 4,000 oxycodone pills, 3,300 hydrocodone pills and other drugs at a cost to the VA of $77,700 and a street value of $160,000.

Christopher Thyer, the U.S. attorney overseeing the case, said the employees were abusing their position to steal from taxpayers and "poison the communities we live in with dangerous drugs."

The drug thefts from VA also raise the possibility that patients will be denied medication they need or that they will be treated by drug-impaired staff.

In one case, a former VA employee in Baltimore pleaded guilty on charges that he injected himself with fentanyl intended for patients heading into surgery, then refilled the syringes with saline solution. Patients received solution tainted with the Hepatitis C virus carried by the employee.

Dr. Dale Klein, a VA pain management specialist, said some of his patients suspected they weren't getting the drugs they needed, including one patient with an amputated leg who had to do without morphine because a VA pharmacy said it did not have enough in supply.

Klein, who is part of a whistleblowers network called VA Truth Tellers, ran a VA pain clinic from 2015 to 2016 and has filed a retaliation claim against VA, saying the VA restricted his work after he voiced complaints. The VA has said it was looking into the claims.

Klein described several of VA's inventory lists as inconsistent or a "slapdash rush job." That concern was underscored by the findings from the Government Accountability Office, released last week, that drug stockpiles were not always being regularly inspected. Klein's attorney, Natalie Khawam, says she's heard similar complaints from other clients at their VA hospitals.

The GAO review, covering January 2015 to February 2016, found the most missed inspections at VA's hospital in Washington, D.C., according to a government official familiar with confidential parts of the audit. Monthly checks were missed there more than 40 percent of the time, mostly in critical patient care areas, such as the operating room and intensive care units. That adds to the risk of veterans not receiving their full medications.

The Washington hospital also missed inspections of the facility's pharmacy for three straight months, violating VA policy, according to the official, who insisted on anonymity to reveal findings that weren't public. In the last year, the hospital had at least five incidents of controlled substances that were "lost" or otherwise unaccounted for, according to the DEA.

Other problems were found in VA hospitals in Seattle, Milwaukee and Memphis, Tennessee. Milwaukee had the fewest, which the GAO attributed to a special coordinator put in place to ensure inspection compliance.

Responding to the findings, the House Veterans Affairs Committee planned a hearing on the inspection issue. Its chairman, Rep. Phil Roe, a physician, said failing to follow protocol is serious and "should not be tolerated within VA."

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Trump's focus on security adviser, health care plan http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170219/GZ0113/170219460 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170219/GZ0113/170219460 Sun, 19 Feb 2017 20:42:44 -0500 By Catherine Lucey The Associated Press By By Catherine Lucey The Associated Press WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - President Donald Trump brought more contenders for national security adviser to his Palm Beach club for in-person interviews Sunday, hoping to fill the job in the coming days as he seeks to refocus his young administration.

Trump also drilled down on policy during his working weekend at Mar-a-Lago, attending a strategy session on how to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, with top aides including Health Secretary Tom Price and Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House budget office.

While in Florida, the president found time for a few holes of golf on Saturday and Sunday. And with his wife, Melania, he stopped by a fundraiser Saturday night at his private Palm Beach club, put on by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Trump also took to Twitter to explain a comment he made about violence in Sweden at a Saturday rally. He suggested that some kind of major incident had taken place in the country Friday night, but on Sunday he said he was referring to something he saw on Fox News. That might have been a report Friday night about the influx of immigrants to Sweden.

Trump also spoke to the leaders of Panama, Trinidad and Tobago.

After weeks of tumult in Washington, Trump returned to Florida and his private club for a third straight weekend. High on Trump's to-do list is finding a replacement for ousted Michael Flynn as national security adviser.

Scheduled to discuss the job with the president at Mar-a-Lago were his acting adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg; John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and the superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump may interview more candidates and hopes to make the decision soon.

Trump pushed out Flynn a week ago after revelations that Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence about discussing sanctions with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. during the presidential transition. Trump said in a news conference Thursday that he was disappointed by how Flynn had treated Pence, but did not believe Flynn had done anything wrong by having the conversations.

Trump's first choice to replace Flynn, retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward, turned down the offer.

Trump's chief of staff used appearances on the Sunday news shows to echo his boss' complaints about media coverage of the White House and cited what he said were multiple accomplishments in the first few weeks of the Trump presidency.

"The truth is that we don't have problems in the West Wing," Reince Priebus told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Priebus also denied a report that Trump advisers were in touch with Russian intelligence advisers during the 2016 campaign, and said he had assurances from "the top levels of the intelligence community" that it was false.

On health care, top House Republicans last week presented a rough sketch of a health overhaul to rank-and-file lawmakers that would void President Barack Obama's 2010 law and replace it with conservative policies. It features a revamped Medicaid program for the poor, tax breaks to help people pay doctors' bills and federally subsidized state pools to assist those with costly medical conditions in buying insurance.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has said Republicans would introduce legislation repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act after Congress returns in late February, but he offered no specifics.

The day of presidential business follows a return on Saturday to campaign mode when Trump held a rally before thousands of supporters at an airplane hangar in Melbourne. He revived campaign promises to build a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, reduce regulations and create jobs - and continued his attacks on the media.

The rally was put on by Trump's campaign, not the White House. Trump told reporters he was holding a campaign rally because "life is a campaign."

Trump, who held a rally in the same spot in Florida in September, clearly relished being back in front of his supporters, welcoming the cheers and letting one supporter up on stage to offer praise for the president.

He also enjoyed reliving his victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump has lurched from crisis to crisis since the inauguration, including the botched rollout of his immigration order, struggles confirming his Cabinet picks and a near-constant stream of reports about strife within his administration.

Priebus would have none of it.

"The fact of the matter is the level of accomplishment that he's put forward so far in the first 30 days has been remarkable," he told CBS' "Face the Nation."

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EPA adversary Pruitt confirmed to head agency http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170217/GZ0101/170219580 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170217/GZ0101/170219580 Fri, 17 Feb 2017 13:37:45 -0500 From staff, wire reports By From staff, wire reports WASHINGTON - Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma's attorney general spent years suing the Environmental Protection Agency over its efforts to regulate various forms of pollution, was confirmed Friday as the agency's next administrator.

Pruitt cleared the Senate by a vote of 52-46.

The vote came after Democrats held the Senate floor for hours overnight and through Friday morning to criticize Pruitt as a pawn of the fossil-fuel industry and to push for a last-minute delay of his confirmation.

Part of their argument was an Oklahoma judge's ruling late Thursday that Pruitt's office must turn over thousands of emails related to his communication with oil, gas and coal companies. The judge set a Tuesday deadline for the release of the emails, which a nonprofit group had been seeking for more than two years.

Republicans pressed forward with the Friday afternoon vote, saying Pruitt had been thoroughly vetted in recent months and calling on Democrats to end what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called "a historic level of obstruction" in holding up Trump administration nominees.

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., voted to confirm Pruitt.

Capito called Pruitt a "great nominee" and said he "embodies the leadership we need to restore accountability to the agency."

Manchin said it is important for President Donald Trump to "have the chance to put his team in place" and that Pruitt "knows that I believe it is important that the EPA is working with states like West Virginia, and not against us."

While he voted to confirm Pruitt, Manchin earlier had voted with his fellow Democrats in a losing effort to delay the confirmation vote until after the emails ordered released in the Oklahoma case are made public. In the end, Manchin was one of only two Democrats to vote to confirm Pruitt. The other was Heidi Heitkamp, of North Dakota. Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine, was the only Republican to vote against confirmation.

"Senator Manchin supported his colleagues efforts to allow more time for consideration of the nominee, but ultimately, Senator Manchin believed that Attorney General Pruitt was the right person for the job, and that is why he voted for his confirmation," said Manchin spokesman Jonathan Kott.

Coal state politicians have portrayed getting Pruitt in at the EPA as part of Trump's plan to rebuild the nation's coal industry, despite widespread belief among energy experts that Appalachian mining is unlikely to recover, even if Obama administration initiatives like rules to address climate change by limiting power plant carbon dioxide emissions are reversed. Pruitt, though, previously has testified before Congress that competition from cheap natural gas - not government regulations - is what drove the decline of the nation's coal industry.

On Thursday, Manchin and Capito joined Trump at the White House for the signing of legislation that overturned a Department of the Interior rule aimed at reducing the burial of Appalachian streams with coal-mining waste.

Murray Energy CEO Bob Murray, whose company is the largest coal producer in West Virginia, also attended the bill-signing.

"I applaud President Trump's initiative and leadership in protecting these coal jobs and affordable electricity for all Americans," Murray said in a prepared statement.

Pruitt's confirmation marks a serious defeat for environmental advocacy groups, which wrote letters, waged a furious social media campaign, lobbied members of Congress, paid for television ads and sponsored a series of public protests to keep the Oklahoman from taking the reins of the EPA.

"Scott Pruitt, as administrator of the EPA, likely means a full-scale assault on the protection that Americans have enjoyed for clean air, clean water and a healthy climate," Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said. "For environmental groups, it means we're in for the fight of our lives for the next four years."

Pruitt sued the EPA more than a dozen times during Barack Obama's presidency, challenging the agency's authority to regulate toxic mercury pollution, smog, carbon emissions from power plants and the quality of wetlands and other waters.

In Oklahoma, he dismantled a specialized environmental protection unit that had existed under his Democratic predecessor and established a "federalism unit" to combat what he called "unwarranted regulation and systematic overreach" by Washington.

Additionally, as the one-time leader of the Republican Attorneys General Association and the privately funded Rule of Law Defense Fund, he spearheaded a group of attorneys general who fought the Obama administration on such issues as the Affordable Care Act, Wall Street reforms and efforts to extend overtime pay to more workers.

West Virginia's Republican attorney general, Patrick Morrisey, also has sued to challenge Obama EPA rules and issued a statement Friday that said Pruitt "will respect the law and reinforce [the] EPA's core mission to protect our air and water without unconstitutional and job killing overreach."

Pruitt's combative approach has won him praise from some fellow Republicans and the oil and gas firms that have helped fund his efforts, as well as from Trump, who has criticized the EPA for what he calls burdensome and unnecessary regulations.

"Whoever was nominated by President Trump, the environmental community was going to demonize," said Jeff Holmstead, who headed the EPA's air and radiation office under President George W. Bush and is now a lawyer representing energy firms. But he said he thinks Pruitt will prove to his critics and to EPA employees that he does believe in the agency's core mission, even as he has argued that the EPA overstepped its legal authority under Obama.

"Over the past eight years in particular, [the EPA] has completely micromanaged the states. I think you'll see a real effort to reset that balance," Holmstead said. "I think he really does believe in the rule of the law. He believes the role of the executive branch is to carry out the intent of Congress. I think he's committed to doing that."

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Trump family's elaborate lifestyle is a 'logistical nightmare' at taxpayer expense http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170217/GZ0101/170219585 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170217/GZ0101/170219585 Fri, 17 Feb 2017 08:54:02 -0500 By DREW HARWELL, AMY BRITTAIN and JONATHAN O’CONNELL The Washington Post By By DREW HARWELL, AMY BRITTAIN and JONATHAN O’CONNELL The Washington Post On Friday, President Donald Trump and his entourage will jet for the third straight weekend to a working getaway at his oceanfront Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida.

On Saturday, Trump's sons Eric and Don Jr., with their Secret Service details in tow, will be nearly 8,000 miles away in the United Arab Emirates, attending the grand opening of a Trump-brand golf resort in the "Beverly Hills of Dubai."

Meanwhile, New York police will keep watch outside the Trump Tower in Manhattan, the chosen home of first lady Melania Trump and son Barron. And the tiny township of Bedminster, New Jersey, is preparing for the daunting prospect that the local Trump golf course will serve as a sort of northern White House for as many as 10 weekends a year.

Barely a month into the Trump presidency, the unusually elaborate lifestyle of America's new first family is straining the Secret Service and security officials, stirring financial and logistical concerns in several local communities, and costing far beyond what has been typical for past presidents - a price tag that, based on past assessments of presidential travel and security costs, could balloon into the hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of a four-year term.

Adding to the costs and complications is Trump's inclination to conduct official business surrounded by crowds of people, such as his decision last weekend to host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for a working dinner while Mar-a-Lago members dined nearby.

The handful of government agencies that bear the brunt of the expenses, including the Defense and Homeland Security departments, have not responded to Washington Post requests for data laying out the costs since Trump took office.

But some figures have dribbled out, while others can be gleaned from government documents.

Trump's three Mar-a-Lago trips since the inauguration have likely cost the federal treasury roughly $10 million, based on figures used in an October government report analyzing White House travel, including money for Coast Guard units to patrol the exposed shoreline and other military, security and staffing expenses associated with moving the apparatus of the presidency.

Palm Beach County officials plan to ask Washington to reimburse tens of thousands of dollars a day in expenses for deputies handling added security and traffic issues around the cramped Florida island whenever Trump is in town.

In New York, the city is paying $500,000 a day to guard Trump Tower, according to police officials' estimates, an amount that could reach $183 million a year.

Earlier this month, The Post reported that Secret Service and U.S. embassy staff paid nearly $100,000 in hotel-room bills to support Eric Trump's trip to promote a Trump-brand condo tower in Uruguay.

"This is an expensive way to conduct business, and the president should recognize that," said Tom Fitton, president of the conservative group Judicial Watch, which closely tracked President Barack Obama's family vacation costs and said it intends to continue the effort for the Trump administration.

"The unique thing about President Trump is that he knows what it costs to run a plane." Fitton added, noting that Trump should consider using the presidential retreat of Camp David, a short helicopter ride from the White House, or even his golf course in northern Virginia. Of Mar-a-Lago, Fitton said, "Going down there ain't free."

For Trump, the costs come with an additional perk: Some of the money flows into his own pocket. While Trump has removed himself from managing his company, he has refused to divest his ownership, meaning that he benefits from corporate successes such as government contracts.

The Defense Department and Secret Service, for instance, have sought to rent space in Trump Tower, where leasing a floor can cost $1.5 million a year - though neither agency has disclosed any details. In addition, Trump's travel to his signature properties while trailed by a press corps beaming images to the world allows the official business of the presidency to double as marketing opportunities for his brand.

The White House did not address broader concerns of the costs and potential conflicts inherent in Trump's early travels. But White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham told The Post this week that Trump is always working, even when he's left Washington behind.

"He is not vacationing when he goes to Mar-a-Lago," Grisham said. "The President works nonstop every day of the week, no matter where he is."

Trumps' frequent travel belies his repeated criticism of Obama as a "habitual vacationer" enjoying taxpayer-funded golf getaways. It also follows his own promises: He told the Hill newspaper in 2015, "I would rarely leave the White House because there's so much work to be done."

Presidential families have for decades been guaranteed round-the-clock protection, no matter the expense or destination. Every presidency has brought new operational challenges and lifestyle habits, from George W. Bush's frequent stays at his remote ranch in Texas to Obama's annual trips to Martha's Vineyard and his native state of Hawaii. Judicial Watch estimated Obama-related travel expenses totaled nearly $97 million over eight years.

But based on the first four weeks, Trump's presidency appears on track to cost hundreds of millions of dollars more.

The burden is especially acute for the Secret Service, the presidential protection force that has endured years of budget shortages, low morale and leadership shake-ups, including the announcement this week that its director, Joseph Clancy, is stepping down.

Agents are now tasked with guarding multiple homes and protecting Trump's four adult children, including the globe-trotting sons running the family business and daughter Ivanka, whose family recently moved into a Washington, D.C., neighborhood.

"There was an anticipation of how stressful it was going to be on the agency, but the harsh reality is that the stress is just overwhelming," said Jonathan Wackrow, a 14-year Secret Service employee who served in Obama's detail and now works as executive director of the risk-mitigation company RANE.

Even veteran agents, Wackrow said, are feeling the pressure of the "monumental" task, including manning high-security perimeters in Washington, Florida and New York, along with protecting family member's private-business travel across three continents.

"It's a logistical nightmare," Wackrow said. Agents are "at severe risk of burnout, and the very last thing you want is to have your agents burnt out."

A Secret Service spokesman said the agency is equipped to handle the demands of a Trump presidency. "Every administration presents unique challenges to which the Secret Service has effectively adapted," according to an agency statement. "Regardless of location ... the Secret Service is confident in our security plan."

Experts and local officials have pointed to a string of security and logistical concerns surrounding Mar-a-Lago, the lavish estate Trump turned into a club in 1995 and now calls the "Winter White House."

Club members pay $200,000 to join - a fee that has doubled since his election - and $14,000 a year to belong, giving them access to the beach, tennis courts, a spa and, now, on occasional weekends, to the president.

But Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., who represents Palm Beach, said Mar-a-Lago is a poor choice for a president's long-term home: an exposed oceanfront club on a narrow, busy island, where traffic problems were already routine.

"Mar-a-Lago is no Camp David," Frankel said. "It's not set up with the intention or the forethought of keeping the president safe."

The challenges for Mar-a-Lago as a presidential home were apparent from pictures posted on social media last weekend by club guests - including close-up images of the presidential limousine and a picture of a military official carrying the nuclear "football."

In one Instagram video recorded Friday night outside Mar-a-Lago, a woman fawns as men with earpieces inspect under the hood of a line of cars heading into the club, "The Secret Service is so hot."

The weekend brought the presidential entourage to two other Trump properties, as Trump and Abe golfed 27 holes at the president's courses in Jupiter and West Palm Beach. The events meant global publicity for the Trump brand - and even more security complications.

The federal and local governments have spent considerable sums to help safeguard the sprawling estate on items big and small.

In advance of Trump's Super Bowl weekend trip to Mar-a-Lago, the Secret Service paid for a bevy of security costs, including more than $12,000 for tents, portable toilets, light towers and golf carts, purchase orders show.

The bills have racked up outside the club, too. Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said Trump's 25 days in the county since the election have cost local taxpayers about $60,000 a day in overtime police payments.

Local officials said the U.S. Coast Guard has run round-the-clock shoreline patrols alongside Mar-a-Lago when the president is in town. A Coast Guard spokesman declined to share costs or specifics, citing security concerns.

The Town of Palm Beach recently implemented a "presidential visit seasonal traffic mitigation plan" in hopes of stemming the island's worsening traffic woes. Running every weekend until May, the plan includes a town order demanding sanitation and public-works crews leave the island every Friday by 3 p.m.

Local officials usually only learn a few days in advance that the president is coming, said Kirk Blouin, the town's director of public safety. "We plan as if he is going to be here most weekends," Blouin said, "because otherwise it's too hard to plan."

Overseas travel by Trump's adult sons is adding to the burden on taxpayers.

Eric Trump and his security detail flew earlier this month to the Dominican Republic, during which the president's son met with developers proposing a Trump-brand luxury resort. Purchase orders showing government expendtires for that trip are not yet available, but records show that Secret Service officials traveled there in advance to scope out the area - staying at the five-star, oceanfront AlSol Del Mar hotel at a cost of $5,470.

After this weekend's trip to Dubai - during which early Secret Service hotel bills have already surpassed $16,000, records show - the Trump brothers will travel to Vancouver for the Feb. 28 grand opening of another Trump-brand skyscraper.

The State Department has declined to provide details related to its expenditures for Trump family travel around the world, including the participation of embassy staff when Eric Trump and Don Trump Jr. travel on behalf of the family business.

The best public estimate for the full cost of Trump's presidential getaways may come from a U.S. Government Accountability Office report in October, which estimated that a four-day trip for Obama cost taxpayers more than $3.6 million.

During that Presidents' Day weekend trip in 2013, Obama flew to Chicago to give an economic speech, then to Palm City, Florida, to golf with Tiger Woods and the owner of the Houston Astros baseball team.

That money went toward operating aircraft flown in from 10 states - including Air Force One, which costs an estimated $200,000 an hour to fly - as well as assorted watercraft, military working dogs, rental cars, hotel rooms and a Coast Guard rescue helicopter.

The trip drew the ire of many Republicans in Congress, including U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who requested the GAO review Obama's costs. Asked whether Barrasso would file a similar request for Trump's trips, his spokeswoman said equating the two presidents' trips would be "misleading at best."

"Former President Obama flew to Florida for the express purpose of a golf lesson and a round of golf with Tiger Woods. President Trump was in Florida with the Prime Minister of Japan," press secretary Laura Mengelkamp said in a statement. "Regardless, every level of the federal government needs to be mindful of the way it spends taxpayer dollars."

In November, when Trump spent a weekend at his Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, the 8,000-resident township received just 48 hours' notice demanding an all-hours security detail of six police officers from its 16-officer force.

Township officials have begun preparing for the possibility that Trump will make up to 10 visits this year, including a potentially extended summer stay for the first lady. Officials there offered a projection, based on seven Trump trips, that could cost the township more than $300,000.

"Bedminster is a small municipality with a small police force and a small budget," Mayor Steven Parker wrote in a letter asking for federal help in recouping security costs. "We want to welcome President Trump with open arms, but we don't wish to burden our taxpayers disproportionately for these visits."

The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold and Carol Leonnig contributed to this report.

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Donald Trump's supporters are loving his combative stance with the media http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170217/GZ0101/170219586 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170217/GZ0101/170219586 Fri, 17 Feb 2017 08:43:17 -0500 By John Raby The Associated Press By By John Raby The Associated Press CHARLESTON - Critics of President Donald Trump saw in his news conference a combative, thin-skinned chief executive who continues to blame the media for the controversies roiling his administration.

His supporters saw something else: A champion of Middle America who is taking on the establishment and making good on his campaign promises to put the country first.

The Associated Press contacted Trump supporters across the country to see how they viewed a Thursday news conference in which the president said his administration was running like "a fine-tuned machine" despite the resignation of his top national security adviser, a court setback on his immigration order, a defeat for his nominee as labor secretary and reports of internal divisions.

Here are views of some of those supporters:

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Richelle Kirk of Logan, West Virginia, watched some of Trump's news conference on Thursday and didn't see any head-scratching comments from the president.

"I back him 100 percent," said the 42-year-old stay-at-home mom. "You either love it or get out, is my opinion."

During Barack Obama's presidency, her husband was laid off from his coal-mining job, a loss they blamed on Obama's environmental policies. She said they lost a home and "everything we owned."

After West Virginia voters resoundingly rejected Obama during his 2012 re-election, "we didn't show our hind ends when Obama was re-elected," Kirk said. So she believes people shouldn't overreact to Trump, either.

She particularly agreed with the president when he took credit for an optimistic business climate and a rising stock market, saying Trump is beginning to fulfill his campaign promise to put people back to work.

Reporters, she said, "need to leave him alone. He's just doing what he said he's going to do."

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Kevin Felty of Norfolk, Virginia, said it was the "most impressive presidential press conference" of his life.

"Largely because it was so unorthodox," said Felty, 48, who works as a surgical assistant and sells life insurance. "It was hyper adversarial between the president and the press. And yet he was able to control the questioning and the tone and the mood in the room."

Felty said the media needs to move on regarding Russia and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

"There was nothing illegal that General Flynn had done at that time," Felty said. "What he did do is make a mistake in not being accurate with the vice president."

He also said he believes Trump is trustworthy as president.

"He doesn't need the media to chide him to make the right decisions," Felty said. "It's something he's been doing well for decades."

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Regina Lenoir of Picayune, Mississippi, enjoyed watching Trump's news conference and said the president "looked more relaxed."

Lenoir, 69, said she was most interested in the president's comments about the alleged leaks that led to the resignation of Michael Flynn as national security adviser.

"We don't know the conversation that happened between him and [Vice President Mike] Pence. Only they know. But the news media gets out there [and] says such and such with no corroboration," she said. "I'm sick of them making up stories. You know, we're intelligent people. We can make up our own mind on whether they're telling the truth."

She agreed with Trump's take on how the media has covered his administration and campaign, saying those covering his administration are good reporters but biased.

She said if people gave Trump a chance, "he might just surprise everyone.

"He wasn't my first choice, but he is my president," Lenoir said. "I think he handled the news conference very well."

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Joseph Gatlin of Virginia Beach, Virginia, said he did not watch the news conference but heard about the question a Jewish reporter asked Trump about a rise in anti-Semitic incidents around the country.

Trump told the reporter to sit down and said it was not a simple or fair question before describing himself as "the least anti-Semitic person you've ever seen in your entire life."

Gatlin, who is Jewish and who was born in Israel, said the media needs to move on from "asking the same question."

"He's not a racist. He doesn't believe in racism," said Gatlin, who owns a flooring company. "He's not anti-Semitic at all."

Gatlin pointed to the number of Jewish people in Trump's inner circle, including his son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner. He said the media instead should be asking Trump about terrorism and the economy.

"I think that it's become ridiculous," Gatlin said. "He wants the serious questions. He wants people to ask him questions that people care about. You can't mention racism in every speech. They're looking at the wrong things."

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Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin, said he was glad to see the president push back against the media. He said reporters have no proof Trump or anyone around him did anything wrong.

"They're trying to make up a story that Trump worked with the Russians to rig the election," he said. "Now they're trying to make a big deal out of [former national security adviser] Mike Flynn. He was doing what he was supposed to do. He was talking to his counterparts. He was talking to the Russians. He got fired because he lied to Pence. There's no story there. The left media is so excited. They think they took this guy down. No, he made a mistake. He just lied."

Hiltgen said he remains squarely behind the billionaire president because he has done what he said he would do on the campaign trail.

"He's accomplished more in, whatever, three weeks, regarding the stuff he talked about," Hiltgen said. "That's what people voted for. I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do. That never happens."

Associated Press writers Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia; Chevel Johnson in New Orleans; and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin, contributed to this report.

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Trump says White House 'fine-tuned machine,' despite turmoil http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170216/GZ01/170219610 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170216/GZ01/170219610 Thu, 16 Feb 2017 18:41:15 -0500 By Darlene Superville and Ken Thomas The Associated Press By By Darlene Superville and Ken Thomas The Associated Press WASHINGTON - Donald Trump mounted an aggressive defense of his young presidency Thursday, lambasting reports that his campaign advisers had inappropriate contact with Russian officials and vowing to crack down on the leaking of classified information.

Nearly a month into his presidency, Trump insisted in a free-wheeling White House news conference that his administration has made "significant progress" and took credit for an optimistic business climate and a rising stock market.

The president denounced media reports of a chaotic start to his administration marked by his contentious executive order - rejected by a federal appeals court - to place a ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations. Trump said he would announce a "new and very comprehensive order to protect our people" next week.

"This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine," Trump declared in a lengthy news conference that saw the new commander-in-chief repeatedly interrupting reporters' questions and airing his grievances.

Throughout the encounter, the new president delivered recurring criticism of the news media, accusing it of being "out of control" and promising to take his message "straight to the people."

He dismissed recent reports in The New York Times and on CNN that campaign aides had been in contact with Russian officials before his election. Trump called Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager, who has ties to Ukraine and Russia, a respected man.

Pressed repeatedly, Trump said that "nobody that I know of" on his campaign staff had contacted Russian officials. He called such reports a "ruse" and said he had "nothing to do with Russia." Trump added, "Russia is fake news. This is fake news put out by the media."

Amid reports of widespread leaks within his administration, Trump also warned that he would clamp down on the dissemination of sensitive information, saying he had asked the Justice Department to investigate. "Those are criminal leaks," adding, "The leaks are real. The news is fake."

He blamed any problems on the Obama administration.

"I inherited a mess at home and abroad - a mess," Trump said.

Democrats said Trump's refusal to say for sure that his campaign staff wasn't in contact with the Kremlin underscored the need for an independent investigation through a special congressional select committee, a commission styled after the review of the 9/11 attack or an independent counsel from the Justice Department.

"His silence speaks volumes," said Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee.

The president announced that Alexander Acosta, the dean of the Florida International University law school, would be his nominee for Labor secretary. That came a day after fast-food executive Andrew Puzder withdrew his nomination for Labor after losing support among Republican senators.

Trump, a reality television star and real estate mogul who was elected as an outsider intent on change, said his ousted national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was "just doing his job" in talking with Russian officials before the inauguration. But he said he was "not happy" with how Flynn described his phone call with a Russian diplomat to Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump knew for weeks that Flynn had misled Pence but did not inform the vice president, according to a timeline of events supplied by the White House.

Trump said he had identified a strong replacement for Flynn, which made the decision to let him go easier.

Trump was said to favor Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a former Navy SEAL, as his next national security adviser, according to a White House official. Harward met with top White House officials last week and had the backing of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

He met with officials later Thursday, but CBS News reported Thursday evening that Harward had rejected Trump's offer.

CBS reported that sources close to the situation said Harward and the administration had a dispute over staffing the Security Council. Harward had demanded his own team, and the White House resisted, CBS News said.

The network said that, specifically, Trump told deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland that she could retain her post, even after Flynn's ouster. Harward reportedly refused to keep McFarland as his deputy, and the retired admiral declined to serve as Flynn's replacement.

Harward, a 60-year-old former Navy SEAL, served as deputy commander of U.S. Central Command under now-Defense Secretary James Mattis. He previously served as deputy commanding general for operations of Joint Special Operations Command, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Addressing immigration at the news conference, one of the biggest issues of the past campaign, Trump said it was difficult dealing with the policy known as DACA, which allows young adults to get work permits and Social Security numbers and protects them from deportation. Referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals rule, he said he would "deal with DACA with heart."

While Trump has promised to halt illegal immigration as a cornerstone of his administration, he also has promised to focus on people who have committed crimes. He said he has the "best lawyers" working on the policy now and the "new executive order is being tailored to the decision we got from the court."

Earlier in the day, Trump had a breakfast meeting with some of his staunchest House supporters.

Trump warned in a pair of tweets Thursday that "low-life leakers" of classified information will be caught. As journalists were being escorted out of the breakfast meeting, Trump responded to a reporter's question on the subject by saying: "We're going to find the leakers" and "they're going to pay a big price."

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Trump administration says it will revise travel ban http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170216/GZ01/170219631 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170216/GZ01/170219631 Thu, 16 Feb 2017 14:54:40 -0500 By Sudhin Thanawala The Associated Press By By Sudhin Thanawala The Associated Press SAN FRANCISCO - President Donald Trump's administration said in court documents on Thursday it does not want a larger appellate panel to review a ruling keeping its travel ban on hold and will instead replace the ban.

"In so doing, the president will clear the way for immediately protecting the country rather than pursuing further, potentially time-consuming litigation," the administration said in the filing.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit last week refused to block a lower-court decision that suspended the ban. The judges rejected the Trump administration's claim of presidential authority and questioned its motives.

The administration attacked the decision in Thursday's court filing, saying the three-judge panel misunderstood the scope of the order.

The decision came in a lawsuit brought by the states of Washington and Minnesota, which said the ban unconstitutionally blocked entry on the basis of religion and harmed their residents, universities and sales tax revenue. Eighteen other states, including California and New York, supported the challenge.

The appeals court had asked the Trump administration and Washington and Minnesota to file arguments by Thursday on whether more judges should hear the case.

The three-judge panel said the states had raised "serious" allegations that the ban targets Muslims, and the courts could consider statements Trump has made about shutting down Muslim immigration.

The judges also rejected the federal government's argument that courts do not have the authority to review the president's immigration and national security decisions.

They said the Trump administration presented no evidence that any foreigner from the seven countries - Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen - was responsible for a terrorist attack in the U.S.

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Trump nominates ex-NLRB member Acosta as labor secretary http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170216/GZ0113/170219636 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170216/GZ0113/170219636 Thu, 16 Feb 2017 14:12:12 -0500 By Shannon Pettypiece Bloomberg By By Shannon Pettypiece Bloomberg President Donald Trump named former National Labor Relations Board member R. Alexander Acosta as his new nominee for labor secretary, the first Hispanic he has chosen for his Cabinet.

Trump said Acosta will be "a tremendous secretary of labor."

Acosta replaces Trump's first nominee for the position, Andy Puzder, who withdrew his name Wednesday amid controversy over his personal life and business background.

Acosta served as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division under President George W. Bush and was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida. He once clerked for then-Appeals Court judge Justice Samuel Alito.

He is currently the dean of Florida International University and the chairman of U.S. Century Bank.

He met with Trump Wednesday evening, a White House official said.

"He's intense, hardworking, but I think in contrast to Puzder, he's going to get things done more quietly," said Tammy McCutcheon, who served as administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of the Labor Department during the Bush administration. "He will be quietly efficient. I don't think you'll see a lot of difference in his policy positions from Puzder."

Puzder, a fast-food executive who had been scheduled for a Senate confirmation hearing Thursday, ran into trouble in the Senate over his admission that he employed an undocumented housekeeper. Also shadowing his nomination were divorce-court proceedings that included a domestic-abuse allegation. Some conservatives had questioned his pro-immigration stance.

In the 52-48 Senate, three Republican defections would have doomed Puzder if all 48 Democrats voted to deny him, and as many as a dozen GOP senators had indicated they wouldn't back the nomination.

Puzder is head of the fast-food conglomerate CKE Restaurants Inc. that includes Carl's Jr. and Hardee's. His withdrawal came after a week that saw party-line confirmations in the Senate and a tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Mike Pence to confirm Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. That 51-50 tally was the first time a vice president ever broke a tie on a Cabinet nomination.

Trump has already lost one senior member of his administration. He dismissed Mike Flynn as national security adviser on Monday because the administration said he may have misled the president and vice president about his communications with a Russian envoy.

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Tea party gains voice in Trump's Cabinet with budget chief http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170216/GZ0101/170219639 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170216/GZ0101/170219639 Thu, 16 Feb 2017 12:33:48 -0500 By ANDREW TAYLOR The Associated Press By By ANDREW TAYLOR The Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate on Thursday confirmed President Donald Trump's pick to run the White House budget office, giving the Republicans' tea party wing a voice in the Cabinet.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., squeaked through on a 51-49 vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, who is emerging as perhaps the most vocal GOP critic of the Trump administration, opposed Mulvaney for the nominee's past House votes supporting cuts to Pentagon spending.

"Mulvaney has spent his last six years in the House of Representatives pitting the national debt against our military," said McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senators then gave a tentative 54-46 procedural green light to Trump's choice to run the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. It was a signal that Pruitt should sail through on a final vote scheduled for Friday, despite being opposed by Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a GOP moderate.

Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, two of the party's more moderate members, backed Pruitt.

Mulvaney's confirmation promises to accelerate work on Trump's upcoming budget plan, which is overdue. That's typical at the beginning of an administration. But there is also the need to complete more than $1 trillion in unfinished spending bills for the current budget year, as well as transmit Trump's request for a quick start on his oft-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall and tens of billions of dollars in emergency cash for the military.

In the past, Mulvaney has routinely opposed catchall appropriations bills, which required Republicans to compromise with the Obama White House. The upcoming measure is also going to require deals with Democrats.

Mulvaney brings strong conservative credentials to the job, and he's likely to seek big cuts to longtime GOP targets such as the EPA and other domestic programs whose budgets are set each year by Congress.

Trump has indicated, however, that he not interested in tackling highly popular benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare and wants a major investment in highways and other public works. The House Freedom Caucus, a group of the most conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill, issued a statement saying that the president's pick of Mulvaney "sends a strong message that the Trump administration is serious about tackling our national debt."

Democrats opposed Mulvaney over his support for curbing the growth of Medicare and Social Security and other issues, such as his brinksmanship as a freshman lawmaker during the 2011 debt crisis in which the government came uncomfortably close to defaulting on U.S. obligations.

"He said to me in a one-on-one meeting how he would prioritize the debts he would pay if he defaulted on the debt," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. "Wouldn't that be a great addition to the chaos we are all feeling right now?"

The vote came a day after Trump's pick to head the Labor Department, Andrew Puzder, abruptly withdrew his nomination in the face of Republican opposition. Puzder faced questions over taxes he belatedly paid on a former housekeeper not authorized to work in the United States.

Mulvaney has managed to survive questions about his failure to pay more than $15,000 in payroll taxes for a nanny more than decade ago. He has since paid the taxes.

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Women's March organizers plan 'Day Without A Woman' strike next month http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170216/GZ0113/170219646 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170216/GZ0113/170219646 Thu, 16 Feb 2017 09:26:35 -0500 By PERRY STEIN The Washington Post By By PERRY STEIN The Washington Post WASHINGTON - The organizers behind the Women's March on Washington are calling for a general strike next month to show the country what a day without women would look like.

The strike is planned for March 8.

"In the spirit of women and their allies coming together for love and liberation, we offer a Day Without A Woman," a statement from the organizers read. "We ask: do businesses support our communities, or do they drain our communities? Do they strive for gender equity or do they support the policies and leaders that perpetuate oppressions."

The terms of the strike and how it would work are unclear, but organizers said they would be sharing more information and actions over the coming weeks.

In the wake of the Women's March on Jan. 21 - when millions of women (and men) rallied around the world on President Trump's first full day in office - the organizers have been releasing actions online for people to take in the first 100 days of the new administration.

The actions so far include writing to senators, strategizing how to build off the energy of the Women's March and planning grass roots protests and other events engaging with Congress next week, which includes Presidents' Day.

The "Day Without a Woman" strike follows the "Day Without Immigrants" strike Thursday in D.C. and across the country.

That strike calls for immigrants not to go to work, spend money or even send their children to school. The strike comes in response to Trump's comments against immigrants and pledges to build a wall along the Mexican border and to "extremely vet" those who enter the country. It aims to show the effect immigrants have in the country on a daily basis.

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Congress blocks Obama gun rule http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170215/GZ01/170219655 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170215/GZ01/170219655 Wed, 15 Feb 2017 21:42:04 -0500 By Kevin Freking The Associated Press By By Kevin Freking The Associated Press WASHINGTON - Congress on Wednesday sent President Donald Trump legislation blocking an Obama-era rule designed to keep guns out of the hands of certain mentally disabled people.

On a vote of 57-43, the Senate backed the resolution, just one of several early steps by the Republican-led Congress to undo regulations implemented by former President Barack Obama. The House had passed the measure earlier this year. The White House has signaled Trump will sign the legislation.

The Obama rule would have prevented an estimated 75,000 people with mental disorders from being able to purchase a firearm. It was crafted as part of Obama's efforts to strengthen the federal background check system in the wake of the 2012 massacre of 20 young students and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old man with a variety of impairments, including Asperger's syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder, shot and killed his mother at their home, then went to school where he killed the students, adults and himself.

The Obama administration rule required the Social Security Administration to send in the names of beneficiaries with mental impairments who also have a third party manage their benefits.

But lawmakers, with the backing of the National Rifle Association and advocacy groups for the disabled, opposed the regulation and encouraged Congress to undertake a rarely successful process designed to void regulations that Congress takes issue with.

With a Republican ally in the White House, the GOP has moved aggressively on several fronts to rescind some of the Obama administration's final regulations on the environment, financial reporting and now guns. Under an expedited process established through the Congressional Review Act, a regulation is made invalid when a simple majority of both chambers pass a joint resolution of disapproval and the president signs it.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, spearheaded the repeal effort and said the regulation unfairly stigmatizes the disabled and infringes on their constitutional right to bear arms. He said that the mental disorders covered through the regulation are filled with "vague characteristics that do not fit into the federal mentally defective standard" prohibiting someone from buying or owning a gun.

Grassley cited eating and sleep disorders as examples of illnesses that could allow a beneficiary to be reported to the background check system if they also have a third party to manage their benefits.

"If a specific individual is likely to be violent due to the nature of their mental illness, then the government should have to prove it," Grassley said.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said he didn't know how he could explain to his constituents that Congress was making it easier rather than harder for people with serious mental illness to have a gun.

"If you can't manage your own financial affairs, how can we expect that you're going to be a responsible steward of a dangerous, lethal firearm?" Murphy said.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., argued that anyone who thinks they're treated unfairly can appeal, and are likely to win if they're not a danger to themselves or others. But Grassley said federal law requires a formal hearing and judgment before depriving someone of owning a firearm due to mental illness.

Gun rights groups weren't the only organizations upset about the Obama administration's regulation. The American Civil Liberties Union criticized it, too. The ACLU said the rule advanced a harmful stereotype that people with mental disabilities, "a vast and diverse group of citizens, are violent." More than a dozen advocacy groups for the disabled also opposed the Obama administration's regulation.

The NAACP, the United States Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities supported the Social Security Administration's efforts.

"This heartless resolution puts the most vulnerable Americans at risk," said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "Make no mistake, this vote was really about deepening the gun industry's customer pool, at the expense of those in danger of hurting themselves or others."

Meanwhile, the GOP-led House also voted Wednesday to reject two Obama-era Labor Department rules designed to guide states and large cities and counties as they create retirement savings programs for low-income workers.

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Puzder withdraws Labor nomination http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170215/GZ0113/170219656 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170215/GZ0113/170219656 Wed, 15 Feb 2017 21:38:29 -0500 By Ed O’Keefe and Jonnelle Marte The Washington Post By By Ed O’Keefe and Jonnelle Marte The Washington Post WASHINGTON - Andrew Puzder, President Donald Trump's labor secretary nominee, withdrew from consideration Wednesday amid growing resistance from Senate Republicans centered primarily on Puzder's past employment of an undocumented housekeeper.

The collapse of Puzder's nomination threw the White House into further turmoil just two days after the resignation of Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, amid revelations that Flynn had spoken repeatedly, and possibly illegally, with the Russian ambassador last year about lifting U.S. sanctions.

Puzder's fate amplified the deteriorating relationship between the White House and Capitol Hill, where bipartisan support grew Wednesday for expanded investigations into ties between Trump, his presidential campaign and Russian officials.

The White House, including Trump, offered no comment on Puzder's withdrawal nor any indication of whom the president would nominate in the restaurant executive's place. Puzder issued a statement saying he was "honored" to have been nominated. "While I won't be serving in the administration, I fully support the President and his highly qualified team," he said.

A top Trump campaign supporter, Puzder had attracted widespread criticism regarding his business record and personal background. He was set to testify today at a confirmation hearing that had been delayed for weeks to allow for the completion of an ethics review of his vast personal wealth.

Critics have railed against Puzder's positions against minimum-wage increases and more generous overtime benefits. Some have also accused him of sexism, pointed to a rancorous divorce that involved later-recanted allegations of domestic abuse as well as racy TV ads run by his restaurant chains that featured scantily clad women eating hamburgers.

But it was Puzder's hiring of an undocumented worker for domestic work - as well as his support for more liberalized immigration policies - that pushed several Senate Republicans away, they said.

Puzder had told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions this month that he had been unaware of the housekeeper's immigration status when he hired her and that he paid federal and state back taxes after terminating her employment.

Similar revelations have forced Cabinet nominees to withdraw dating to at least Bill Clinton's presidency, but it was less clear this year, in the unpredictable, rule-breaking era of Trump, whether that norm would apply. In the end, the revelation was particularly troubling to lawmakers because of the job Puzder was seeking: running the Labor Department.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., a member of the Senate health committee, said Wednesday that revelations about Puzder's personal employment practices gave him "serious concerns" that he had conveyed to Senate leaders. Three other GOP senators on the committee, Susan Collins (Maine), Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), had also publicly voiced doubts.

In the hours before Puzder withdrew, 12 Republican senators "at a minimum" were withholding support, according to a senior Republican who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid political retribution. The quick erosion of support compelled Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to tell the White House on Wednesday that Puzder lacked the support needed to survive, according to two senior Senate aides who requested anonymity. Shortly after that, Puzder withdrew.

Senators may yet face another contentious confirmation vote today, when Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., Trump's nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget, is scheduled for a final vote on the Senate floor. On Wednesday, Mulvaney lost the backing of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who objects to Mulvaney's support for military spending cuts.

Puzder has spent much of his career in the restaurant industry speaking out against wage and labor regulations. The former commercial trial lawyer has been a staunch opponent of rules finalized by the Labor Department last year - and since put on hold - that would have expanded the number of people eligible for overtime pay. He also has been critical of substantially increasing the minimum wage, arguing that it could push companies to cut jobs and encourage businesses to invest more money in automation.

As a result, Puzder's nomination immediately came under intense scrutiny from unions, labor groups and consumer advocates who worried the executive would prioritize businesses over workers. As recently as this week, workers from his fast-food chain and advocates for a higher minimum wage marched outside of CKE's restaurants to protest the nomination. Worker advocates had also hand-delivered petitions to senators' local offices and organized trips for CKE employees to travel to Capitol Hill and share their grievances with senators.

Democrats cheered Puzder's withdrawal and sought to take credit for helping pressure Republicans to withdraw support.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called Puzder's decision "a victory for the American worker. Puzder should never have even been nominated to lead the Labor Department, and Senate Republicans clearly recognized this, too." He called on Trump to nominate someone who "champions workers' rights rather than suppresses them."

Progressives and Democrats said they hoped Trump's next pick for labor secretary would be someone with a clear willingness to speak up for disadvantaged workers.

"We need a labor secretary in the mainstream who supports the workplace protections that he or she would be charged with enforcing - and who cares about workers," said Emily Martin, general counsel for the National Women's Law Center, which opposed Puzder's nomination because of "sexist" advertising run by Carl's Jr. and Hardee's - two of Puzder's restaurant chains - and reports of harassment from employees working for the chain.

Several names that had emerged on Trump's shortlist for labor secretary late last year began recirculating Wednesday. Among them: Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

After Puzder's withdrawal Wednesday, Walker tweeted: "The future is too bright in WI for me to do anything other than being Governor."

Puzder would have been the first labor secretary since the Reagan era to take the job without some experience in public service. He made a minor foray into politics in 2011, when he served as an economic adviser and spokesman for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who recently endorsed his nomination.

In 2016, Puzder was an avid Trump supporter. In addition to serving as an economic adviser to his campaign, he and his wife, Deanna Puzder, contributed a total of $332,000 to Trump's bid, joint fundraising committees and to the Republican National Committee, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Senators often do not weigh in on a nominee publicly until after a confirmation hearing, but Republicans have been mostly in lockstep to support Trump's top Cabinet nominees. Only one other pick - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson - drew as much public wavering among Republicans before his hearing, when five GOP senators expressed doubts. Ultimately, all of them voted for Tillerson.

Beyond the committee where Puzder was scheduled to appear Thursday, three other Republicans - John Thune (S.D.), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) - publicly expressed concerns about his nomination.

Thune's hesitancy was notable because he is the third-ranking Senate Republican and responsible for helping to build support for big-ticket GOP causes. He told reporters Wednesday that he wanted to know more about why Puzder employed an undocumented housekeeper and how he paid her. Tillis cited the same concerns to reporters.

Collins and Murkowski also voted against Betsy DeVos, Trump's choice for education secretary, forcing Vice President Pence to become the first vice president to cast a tiebreaking confirmation vote for a Cabinet member. Both senators are among several who had seen footage of a 1990 "Oprah Winfrey Show" episode in which Puzder's former wife appeared in disguise to describe allegations of domestic violence.

The health committee requested that Winfrey's production company provide copies of the episode for senators to review. Puzder has always denied the allegations, and his ex-wife recanted the accusations in 1990 when the couple reached a child-custody agreement at the time of their divorce and again in a letter to senators last month.

Aides said before Puzder's withdrawal that Portman was still reviewing his history and did not want to weigh in yet, but the senator represents a state where labor unions were building support against the nomination. Portman won reelection last year with the endorsement of several labor unions, a rare feat these days for a Republican.

Another blow to Puzder's chances came on Wednesday morning when the conservative National Review announced its opposition. The publication cited Puzder's past support for increased levels of legal immigration for high-skilled or seasonal workers - a position at odds with Trump's calls for limited legal immigration.

The magazine's editors acknowledged "the impulse of the White House and the Senate to try to bulldog through rather than to give obstructionist Democrats a scalp." But, they wrote, "The country, and the administration, can weather a redo on this one."

The National Restaurant Association - which had marshaled members across the country to help Puzder - called his withdrawal "extremely unfortunate."

"Andy Puzder would have made a great labor secretary," said Cicely Simpson, the group's executive vice president. "We hope that President Trump's next labor secretary nominee, like Andy, has experience creating jobs and a deep understanding how to get business and government to work together to grow the economy."

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A crush of crises all but buries the young Trump White House http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170215/GZ01/170219672 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170215/GZ01/170219672 Wed, 15 Feb 2017 18:44:34 -0500 By Jonathan Lemire The Associated Press By By Jonathan Lemire The Associated Press WASHINGTON - Less than a month into his tenure, Donald Trump's White House is beset by crush of crises.

Divisions, dysfunction and high-profile exits have left the young administration nearly paralyzed and allies wondering how it will reboot. The bold policy moves that marked Trump's first days in office have slowed to a crawl, a tacit admission that he and his team had not thoroughly prepared an agenda.

Nearly a week after the administration's signature travel ban was struck down by a federal court, the White House is still struggling to regroup and outline its next move on that issue. It's been six days since Trump - who promised unprecedented levels of immediate action - has announced a major new policy directive or legislative plan.

His team is riven by division and plagued by distractions. This week alone, controversy has forced out his top national security aide and his pick for labor secretary.

"Another day in paradise," Trump quipped Wednesday after his meeting with retailers was interrupted by reporters' questions about links between his campaign staff and Russian officials.

Fellow Republicans have begun voicing their frustration and open anxiety that the Trump White House will derail their high hopes for legislative action.

Sen. John Thune, of South Dakota, on Wednesday demanded that the White House "get past the launch stage."

"There are things we want to get done here, and we want to have a clear-eyed focus on our agenda," Thune said, "and this constant disruption and drumbeat with these questions that keep being raised is a distraction."

Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, blasted the White House's approach to national security as "dysfunctional," asking, "Who is in charge? I don't know of anyone outside of the White House who knows."

Such criticism from allies is rare during what is often viewed as a honeymoon period for a new president. But Trump, an outsider who campaigned almost as much against his party as for it, has only a tiny reservoir of good will to protect him. His administration has made uneven attempts to work closely with lawmakers and its own agencies.

Officials have begun trying to change some tactics, and some scenery, with the hope of steadying the ship. The White House announced Wednesday that Trump would hold a campaign-style rally in Florida on Saturday, the first of his term. The president often has mentioned how much he loves adoring crowds and affirmation from his supporters.

To be sure, pinballing from one crisis to the next is not unprecedented, particularly for a White House still finding its footing, but the disruptions that have swirled around Trump achieved hurricane force early and have not let up.

On Wednesday, his choice for labor secretary, fast-food CEO Andy Puzder, withdrew his nomination while the administration continued to navigate the fallout from the forced resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn was ousted on the grounds that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with a Russian ambassador.

Flynn's departure marked the return of an issue Trump is not likely to move past quickly. The president's relationship with Moscow will continue to be scrutinized and investigated, sometimes apparently fueled by leaks from within his own administration.

Trump on Wednesday blasted what he called "illegal leaked" information.

Not just leaks, but also legal woes, have derailed Trump's early efforts.

After the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his immigration ban last week, Trump emphatically tweeted "SEE YOU IN COURT!" and the administration vowed that it would re-appeal the block and either revise its original executive order or write a new one from scratch.

But confusion soon followed. After first indicating they would not take a temporary restraining order to the Supreme Court, administration staffers squabbled audibly, behind closed doors, over the accounts emerging in news reports.

When the dust settled, a new statement was printed out and handed to journalists, stating, "to clarify," that all options were on the table. But, despite Trump's vow to have a plan in place by Tuesday, one has not emerged.

The collapse of the ban, which poured fuel on simmering staff rivalries, was followed by a period of stark inaction by a White House suddenly put on the defensive. Trump did sign legislation Tuesday that rolled back a financial regulation, but his administration has not issued any executive orders in days.

House Republicans have been nudging the White House to get behind Speaker Paul Ryan's tax overhaul, which includes a border adjustability plan of which Trump has been skeptical. GOP aides believed they were making progress, but the matter has been overshadowed by the flood of controversies.

Other possible executive actions have been bandied about, from a task force on allegations of voter fraud to steps to strengthen cybersecurity, but have yet to be released. Key legislative items, such as a massive plan to rebuild roads and bridges and an overhaul of the tax law, remain works in progress.

"He's a one-man band for all practical purposes, it's how he ran his business," said Bill Daley, a White House chief of staff under Obama. "When you try to take that and everything revolves around that and he is the beginning, middle and end of everything, that is a tough model. His campaign was the same way."

Trump's new administration has also been plagued by ethics brushfires that are taking up the time and energy of communications and legal staff members.

In one incident that sparked bipartisan condemnation and calls for ethics investigations, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said on TV that people should "go buy Ivanka's stuff" - an endorsement that came after the president disparaged Nordstrom for dropping his daughter's fashion line.

And congressional Republicans also are demanding to know more about the security measures in place at Mar-a-Lago, Trump's weekend White House, where resort members photographed him during a dinnertime national security strategy session after North Korea launched a missile.

"When you are the White House, every day is a crisis. Crisis is routine," said Ari Fleischer, who was President George W. Bush's first press secretary. "But when they all come right on top of each other, particularly at the start of an administration, it starts to create the feeling that they don't know how to run the place."

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